Maidstone United FC
The Gallagher Stadium
James Whatman Way
Saturday 22nd December 2012
Maidstone United 2-2 Worthing
Isthmian League - Division 1 South
I had not been planning to go to a new ground today, in fact the only thing on my mind was how Wycombe were going to do against Bradford City. I knew several Bradford fans and was looking forward to meeting a few of them. They were due to bring a huge support, as their chairman had paid for their tickets and given them subsidised coach travel. But it all came to nothing. I was just doing my last bits of work on a rare Saturday in, when the twitter message had come through that the game was called off. I can't remember having a game postponed for ages, certainly not since we had the undersoil heating as part of the deal with having London Wasps squat at the ground. There had been a few abandonments, most famously earlier in the season with Bristol Rovers, but we had always managed to get the game started.
Naturally, the first thing that came to my mind, was where else could I see football. I did initially think Maidstone, but didn't think they would be at home, as they had been playing at home quite recently. Looking at the games, Carshalton was still on, and that was a long time target of mine. But before long, that went by the wayside. Leatherhead was another one that looked promising, but that too was called off due to a waterlogged pitch. A couple of mates, Sean and Louis suggested Keynsham, but I didn't really fancy it as it was a long old way and was in a fairly low league when I was aiming for step four and above. So I was delighted when I found out that not only did Maidstone have a home game v Worthing, but it also was confirmed as going ahead by their twitter feed. So my destination for the day was decided.
I had no previous experience of watching these 2 teams that I could remember. Maidstone United were once mentioned in EastEnders, back when it was half decent. And Worthing's ground was just down the road from where my family got our pet Springer Spaniel, Maisie, back in 1993. I had a look at Worthing's ground over a fence that day, and really should return to get a few pictures and see a game. They had played Wycombe in a pre season friendly a month before my visit there, with us winning 8-2, prior to our first season in the football league.
After finishing just before 11 and getting home at 11.15, I had a bath and got dressed before confirming all the details I needed. I was conscious about getting to the game in time as it had the potential to sell out, and so I left at 12.20. After stopping to get some cash, I was well on my way and everything was going fine until I hit the hideous abomination that was the M25. The bit between the M4 turnoff and the M3 turnoff had been a pig before, and so it proved to be again, adding around a 50 minute delay to my journey. So my arrival was looking to be around 2.45. So not thinking about my fuel economy, I put my foot down and made up some time, getting to the ground around 2.30. After paying to park on the roadside, a nice little £3 for the council, I made my way to the turnstile and was happy to see that there was still plenty of space.
After paying £10 to get in and £2 for a programme, I needed a drink and so went into the bar and got a pint of Thatchers Gold to take the edge off the journey. It went down very well. Normally I'd be a bit pissed off about paying a tenner for that level, when I feel that something like £7 is more appropriate. Especially after paying for parking. But today I didn't mind, as I was just glad to be at a game. After getting some chips and taking some pictures of the ground, I picked a spot to watch the game, just by the players tunnel. I have pasted a copy of the non league paper's report below.
Overall it was a decent game, and I was glad to be able to see some football when most others were called off. The 3G pitches are controversial in some quarters, currently they are not allowed at the next level up, so it will be interesting to see what happens if Maidstone remain at the top of the league. They certainly get great support - an average of around 1500 fans per game. At todays game, there were nearly 1800, what with it being the only football on and being a top of the table clash. My personal view on 3G is that they should be allowed. I am not sure if I'd want Wycombe to have one, but I certainly don't mind other teams having them, especially with clubs hard pressed to generate income. The consistent surface encourages good football and the only real difference with a game on grass is that there was a slight reduction in slide tackles, but that was not detrimental to the game at all. One last mention of praise, to the referee Thomas Ellams who had an excellent game and got most decisions right. He also communicated really well with the players, earning respect from the players for doing so. Some of the jokers we get in League 2 could learn a thing or 2 from this.
I left and got home without any further delays. I listened to BBC Radio Kent's excellent non league coverage. I am not sure that they give such large amounts of time on normal days, but today they had in depth reviews of the 3 games that went ahead involving Kent teams - Dartford's 5-1 loss at Kidderminster, Cray Valley's 4-0 win at Erith Town in the Kent League and the Maidstone game that I went to. They also gave mention to Charlton who are on the edges of Kent, but gave much more preference to the proper Kent teams. I am not sure if they are this good normally, but the local station for Wycombe, BBC Three Counties is dire. If their beloved Luton, MK Dons or Watford are not in action, they are not interested. We are lucky to get a few minutes in a 4 hour show. And for non league, forget it, they might read out the results at ten to six, but even that is not set in stone. I am sure that if Wycombe was the only game on, they would play music or replace the sports programme with a cookery show or something.
THE GALLAGHER STADIUM was opened in July 2012 with a game against Brighton and Hove Albion. It was their first proper ground in the town after over 20 years of exile, much like Dartford who they initially shared with, before going bust. They had spent the last decade at Sittingbourne, who themselves has suffered ground and financial issues.
It's a smart modern stadium with a capacity of 2200 and has been well populated in pretty much every game that they have played there. Even at a few months old, it could do with expanding, given the massive support they attract. The main stand is decent, holding around 450 people, with every seat normally sold out. The only 2 areas of cover are small metal stands behind each goal, which also fill up quickly. The rest was hard standing, open to the elements. I was certainly glad that I took my umbrella today.This would be a fantastic ground for most sides at this level, but Maidstone look to have outgrown it already. It must be great to be home.
There is a smart bar, that does the clubs own bitter and lager as well as other brands. Cider fans are catered for with Thatchers Gold, which is probably the best of the mainstream ciders. May be nice to get something from Kent producers Sheppy's though - they do it with Shepherd Neame for beer. The club shop is in this building too, no pennants or old programmes, but a good selection for this level, if a tad pricey. The one van that serves food was good for the £2 portion of chips I bought, cooked to perfection and big enough to tide me over until I got home for dinner.
Overall, I'd recommend a visit here, everyone I spoke to was helpful and friendly, and there was a good atmosphere. But I'd say do other places first, and save this one for when the weather is bad. It does cost a few quid more that a day out at other places at this level, but you will not mind so much when it's the only game on.